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Snow Patrol

+ {Tired Pony}

Although many music pundits and journos associate SNOW PATROL as Scottish, the lads (at least in the original line-up) are indeed from Northern Ireland. Struggling to break through for nigh on a decade, it was in early 2004 and the Top 5 success of `Run’ (from the previous year’s third set `Final Straw’; re-promoted to boot) that catapulted the group’s kudos. Fast forward several years and SNOW PATROL have become rising international stars, winning Ireland’s prestigious Meteor Music Award (five times!) and nominations (but no wins) for the Brits.
Formed initially as Shrug while studying at the University of Dundee, in September 1994, students Gary Lightbody (vocals and rhythm guitar), Mark McClelland (bass and vocals) and Michael Morrison (drums) performed many gigs between Dundee and Belfast before self-funding a demo (`The Yogurt Vs. Yogurt Debate’) in late ’95. A year on, they found an American combo were using the same moniker and to save legal wrangles they chose POLARBEAR; sadly Morrison had a breakdown and opted out before any further releases.
With the assistance of BELLE AND SEBASTIAN’s Stuart Murdoch and Richard Colburn (plus stalwart producer Jamie Watson), the duo’s first official single `Starfighter Pilot’ was delivered in June 1997 for Glasgow’s Stow College label, Electric Honey. But once again, the group’s POLARBEAR moniker ran into icy terrain; conflict coming in the shape of former JANE’S ADDICTION bassist Eric Avery (of er… Polar Bear: note the space!) who pushed enough clout and a few phone calls to extract a kow-tow of sorts.
Undeterred, and with a 5-year management/record deal with the independent Jeepster Records (coincidentally, home to BELLE AND SEBASTIAN), SNOW PATROL were born, adding fresh drummer Jonny Quinn (also from Northern Ireland) and live-only samples/turntables contributor Tom Simpson (from Scotland) into the fold. SP gently breezed into the ears and minds of their growing audience via two singles, `Little Hide’ and `One Hundred Things You Should Have Done In Bed’, both highlights from the brittle guitar-pop outfit’s debut long-player, cheekily-titled SONGS FOR POLARBEARS (1998) {*7}. Boosted by the inclusion of the aforementioned singles, a subsequent double-A gem in `Velocity Girl’ and its hip-hop flip `Absolute Gravity’, plus a fresh 1999 take of the Polarbear track, the album (recorded at Jamie Watson’s Chambers Studio in Granton, Edinburgh) was a bright start for the band.
Duly relocating to Glasgow (amidst some side-lining for Gary Lightbody with Scotland’s indie conglomerate, REINDEER SECTION), the dreamy SNOW PATROL finally collected themselves together for a second set, WHEN IT’S ALL OVER WE STILL HAVE TO CLEAR UP (2001) {*7}. Bedsitter music indeed, it coalesced latest singles, `Ask Me How I Am’ and `One Night Is Not Enough’ with other stilted melancholia-meets-manic introspections like `Making Enemies’, `Black And Blue’ and the title track. Keen to expand the group’s compositional horizons, Belfast-born guitarist Nathan Connolly (from F.U.E.L.) was a welcome addition to the band towards the fall of 2002.
Another brilliant addition to Lightbody and Co’s already impressive CV came in the form of FINAL STRAW (2003) {*8}, their first album on Polydor’s Fiction roster, once home to inspirators The CURE. A strange mixture of indie-power ballads (`Spitting Games’ had elements of MY BLOODY VALENTINE), soft, melodic NICK DRAKE/BELLE & SEBASTIAN like folk (`Chocolate’ and `Grazed Knees’ for example), the set pleased indie, rock and pop lovers alike. As diverse as it comes, switching from one musical genre to the next, Lightbody maintained the casual instrumentation of the likes of his other project the REINDEER SECTION and even gave COLDPLAY a “Run” for their money with the excellent rock-out of `Somewhere A Clock Is Ticking’. While other bands strive to be emo – emotional hardcore – Gary proved that real emotions could be equally as subtle on soft, unwinding tracks such as the PINK FLOYD-esque `Same’ as they could be on audacious guitar-led wig-outs. In short, a belated UK Top 3 triumph in the ever confusing world of indie rock.
Everyone’s favourite dirge-rockers returned with more of the dirge and even more of the rock on EYES OPEN (2006) {*7}, a UK No.1 album previewed by the rolling Top 10 single, `You’re All I Have’. Without the sacked McClelland and joined by Paul “Pablo” Wilson (from Kinlochleven in Scotland) on bass and upgrading stalwart Tom Simpson to full-time member, SNOW PATROL were now a fully-fledged quintet. Leader Lightbody still sounded like the most lovelorn man in Christendom, ceding little ground to contemporary musical trends and – save for playing at a slightly rockier clip (especially on the riff-churning `Headlights On Dark Roads’) – all but sticking with the Celtic hugeness that the band’s Scots-Irish blend generates so well. To better their classic `Run’ breakthrough single was to many nigh-on impossible, but with the lush `Chasing Cars’ (also a smash Stateside), SNOW PATROL had produced the feat in spades; the U2-esque `Open Your Eyes’ came a close second. With guests including MARTHA WAINWRIGHT (daughter of Loudon), who joined in on subsequent single `Set The Fire To The Third Bar’, the album’s US Top 40 entry suggested the American market was theirs for the conquering. Indeed, getting the invitation to write the Spiderman 3 movie theme (`Signal Fire’) – a UK Top 5 hit in 2007 – was accolade enough for the SNOW PATROL team.
2008 saw the band challenge the likes of COLDPLAY, KEANE, et al for indie-cum-arena-rock supremacy on album number five, A HUNDRED MILLION SUNS {*7}. With a few UK hits stemming from the cross-Atlantic Top 10 long-player, namely `Take Back The City’, `If There’s A Rocket Tie Me To It’ and `Crack The Shutters’, the record shone via their usual uplifting songs; `Lifeboats’ and the equally horizontal `The Golden Floor’ were the ghosts of NICK DRAKE and ELLIOTT SMITH – if anyone was indeed comparing notes.
Bypassing the obligatory “best of” set, UP TO NOW (2009) {*8} – featuring their B-side cover of BEYONCE’s `Crazy In Love’ (search out also, SNOW PATROL’s “LateNightTales” Various Artists compilation featuring a take of INXS’s `New Sensation’) – FALLEN EMPIRES (2011) {*6} was down to lone songsmith Nathan Connolly; frontman Lightbody was known to suffer severe bouts of writers’ block. Another commercial success all around the planet, the added sprinkle of electronica by way of `In The End’, `Called Out In The Dark’, `I’ll Never Let Go’, etc., one could understand their want to try something new; a re-ignited Lightbody was poignantly earnest and yearning on the beautiful `The Garden Rules’.
In 2010, Lightbody and a team of collaborators including the aforementioned Richard Colburn (on percussion), R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey, Iain Archer, his wife Miriam Kaufmann, Troy Stewart and producer Jacknife Lee were part of TIRED PONY, a one-off acquisition who released one Top 20 set for Fiction Records, THE PLACE WE RAN FROM {*5}. With unlikely guests stemming from KATY PERRY-lookalike actress Zooey Deschanel and fellow American M. Ward, the record had its moments (`Point Me At Lost Islands’ and the single `Dead American Writers’), but one can’t help think this was more a Lightbody solo effort with seasoned session people thrown in to the mix.
Taking Americana AOR/roots as its template for a second batch, Lightbody’s TIRED PONY teamsters – actress Minnie Driver on some backing vox – shuffled softly through pastoral climes on THE GHOST OF THE MOUNTAIN (2013) {*6}. Actually closer to soft-rock and singer-songwriter folk than twang-y alt-country, the warmth of Gary’s stark cues such as `I Don’t Want You As A Ghost’, `I’m Begging You Not To Go’, `Blood’ and `All Things All At Once’, become quite rewarding after a few listens.
A lot had happened in the several years since SNOW PATROL’s previous effort; Simpson had bailed, while writer’s block-inflicted Lightbody gave up the booze; he and other remaining alumni concentrated on domestic life and the odd collaboration and cameo. Therefore 2018’s WILDNESS {*6} – produced and co-penned by JACKNIFE LEE – was dispatched tentatively into a music world always looking for fresh blood. Thankfully for Lightbody, Connolly, Quinn and Wilson (plus the timely upgrade for Johnny McDaid), a series of preview download singles (`Don’t Give In’, `Life On Earth’, `What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get?’ and `Empress’) tempted their legion of loyal fans into securing the album a near No.1 spot (Top 50 in America). Any Krautrock acolyte with a sharp ear for the mighty CAN, might recognise a sample of `Smoke (E.F.S. No.59)’ in the set’s closing piece, `Life And Death’.
The good rule of thumb in most things is “if it isn’t broken don’t fix it”. And that could certainly be the case for SNOW PATROL’s next venture: REWORKED (2019) {*5}. Curious record buyers might disagree; the ones who downloaded the melancholic songs enough times to lavish it a Top 3 place, but with only solemn opener, `Take Back The City’ pushing the envelope, their back catalogue should’ve remained untouched; even for the projected Xmas market. Fans looking for fresh tracks while they plough through the er… snow, then consolation presents come in the shape of the piano-led `Time Won’t Go Slowly’, `Made Of Something Different Now’ and `I Think Of Home’, although they’d been available on recent EPs.
© MC Strong 2004-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS June2012-Nov2019

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